Friday, February 15, 2013

More home curing: making your own lonzino

The finished product, sliced thinly.
A few times since starting up A Man for All Seasonings nearly a year ago now (has it been that long?), I’ve mentioned a cured, air-dried pork specialty known as lonzino. You can certainly guess quite easily from the name that it’s of Italian origin, but you probably can’t guess how easy it is to make, and most importantly how good it is to eat!

I first discovered this on Matt Wright’s engaging food blog (Wrightfood), which, if you haven’t looked at it, is delightfully quirky and interesting, all about Matt’s experiments with different of food-related things (a lot of solid charcuterie information and recipes), with a side benefit being his excellent food photography. I’d suggest checking it out. He has a lot of skill and a good writing style.

Anyway, Matt’s lonzino recipe looked very intriguing, so I gave it a try late last winter. Since we only dry-age meat in the colder months because our basement is pretty ideal at that time, I was a bit worried that it would get too warm as spring came on fast (it was early) and the lonzino would spoil before it had finished drying. What I should have had my eye on was the humidity, which had dropped over the course of the month I had it hanging.

Front piece ready for the cure. Back piece with the cure.
The resulting lonzino was delicious, thanks to Matt’s recipe, but the low humidity had led to it getting a bit too dried out for our taste. For a first attempt, I was impressed, but I was also disappointed that I’d let it hang too long. The key is to weigh the lonzino once it’s cured, wrapped and ready to hang. Then throw it on your kitchen scale every few days until it’s lost 30-35% of its weight. I didn’t remember that, stupid me. By this time you’d think I’d have a concept as important as carefully following directions lasered into my cranium.

As soon as the temperature in the basement reached the ideal meat drying range this past November, I got busy with another pork loin to try my hand again – this time paying attention to everything. The results were gratifying. Everyone who tried our lonzino loved it. It disappeared in a flash.

We’re just reaching the end with our third batch, so I feel confident I’ve got enough experience to share my new-found skill with you.

Both pieces ready for 10 days in the fridge.
First of all, what is lonzino? Take a whole pork loin, trim it nicely, cure it in salt and spices, then wrap and hang it in a cool (55°), not too dry (70%) spot for a few weeks, and viola! (as we musicians say), you have what I’ve come to think of as “poor man’s prosciutto”, or more accurately, pork bresaola (bresaola is cured and air-dried beef). What caught my eye when I originally saw the recipe on Wrightfood was the inclusion of fennel in the cure. Vicki and I love fennel.

Through research, we found there are all kinds of additions that can be put in the cure: garlic, thyme, oregano, basically anything that strikes your fancy. The only constant is salt which is what drives the curing process. The yummy tasting and fragrant ingredients are along for the ride, but will shine when you pop the finished product in your mouth.

Since this post is getting rather long-winded, I’m going to divide things up. This first one will end with the recipe and instructions for curing your lonzino, and the second will deal with wrapping, drying, slicing and serving your creation. If you’re into home-curing or interested in trying your hand, I’d suggest lonzino as a good place to start. The only thing easier that I’ve found is guanciale, and if you’re a follower of AMFAS, I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about that Italian delicacy!

Lonzino: cured and air-dried pork loin
How much it serves depends on the size of the loin, but the finished product 
will weigh about 40% less than what you start out with.

The cure ingredients are given as a percentage of the total meat weight, after trimming. Since every piece of meat is a different weight, it’s far more accurate to give them this way. In the case of the critical ingredients (kosher salt and curing salt), it’s absolutely necessary to deal in weight percentages if you don’t want a major kitchen disaster. Done in this manner, you are assured that this part of your endeavor will work out just fine. With this in mind, you will need an accurate kitchen scale, something every serious cook should not be without. For home-curing, they’re indispensible.

INGREDIENTS (all percentages are derived from the weight of the meat)
1 trimmed pork loin (a thin layer of fat on the outside is fine if you like a bit of fat)
3.3% (per meat weight) kosher salt
.25% curing salt*
1% black pepper
.15% juniper berries
.27% fennel seeds
2 dried bay leaves

Note: if your pork loin weighs, say, 1 kilo (1000 grams), you’ll be using for your cure 33gr of kosher salt, 2.5gr of curing salt, 10gr of black pepper, 1.5gr juniper berries, and 2.7gr fennel seeds. That should give you a rough idea of how the weight calculations should come out. Be careful to get the curing salt measurement correct! You will not be using very much. If your calculations show a lot of curing salt needed, do your calculations again. In this example, 2.5 grams is under a half teaspoon. Using weight to figure out curing recipes is far more accurate than using volume measurements.

1. Trim away any nasty looking stuff from the meat – blood spots and so on as well as most of the fat (if there is any). Wash gently, dry thoroughly.

2. Finely grind all the cure ingredients in a spice grinder or food processor. I’d suggest first flattening the juniper berries with the side of a knife. I also like to then pulverize them along with the fennel seeds using a mortar and pestle, then adding them to the rest of the ingredients to make sure I get uniform sizes of everything. Put the trimmed loin in a large zip lock bag, dump in the cure and rub it thoroughly into the meat. Seal the bag, and put it in the fridge for 8 to 10 days, depending on the weight of the meat.

3. Every other day, rub the meat throughly in the bag, helping to redistribute the cure well. Flip it over. It will throw off some liquid which is a help as the curing goes on.

4. When the cure has done its work, take the lonzino out of the bag, thoroughly rinse off the cure and pat it dry. Now you’re ready to get it into a casing and the drying underway. We’ll deal with that in the next post.

The longer you cure the meat, the saltier it will get, so for us, it’s a matter of getting the meat safely cured, but not allowing it to go a moment longer. It’s a fine line, but if you’ve cured things before, you’ll be familiar with what a completely cured piece of meat feels like. If you’re new to this, it will feel firmer, more “compact” somehow. Does that help? If you’re in doubt, let it go longer – and keep notes so you can correct things when you try again.

*Curing salt, also known as Prague powder, Instacure, Cure #2, pink salt, etc. is a mixture of finely ground salt with nitrate and/or nitrite added (6% by weight). For more information: click HERE. It is not too hard to source curing salt. Any butcher supply store will have it or you can order online. We found some at a local Bass Pro outlet. Many stores that cater to hunters will have it. Remember: it can be dangerous if eaten in large amounts, so be careful! Store it safely, well-labeled, and always double check your calculations when using it to cure meat. The amount needed for any recipe will be less than 10% of the regular salt needed for that recipe.

See you next post for the rest of the lonzino story!


Rick Blechta said...

I've got four pounds of pork loin and about to make my first batch of lonzino of this curing "season". I'm making a couple of tweaks to the cure and will be writing about them shortly.

Stay tuned pork fans!

Marko said...


I was wondering is putting on a casing required to dry cure a lonzino? I was wondering if it can be cured without casing, and whether or not that will make it dry to quickly. I wasnt sure what the purpose of the casing was on solid muscles like this.


Rick Blechta said...


Not really, but I do recommend it. The reason for using a casing is to keep the outside from drying out too much while waiting for the inside of the lonzino to dry out.

You could certainly try the sort of casing used on salami, for instance, since it is used there for the same reason (other than keeping the ingredients bound together at the beginning of drying.

One of my readers tried using a lot of layers of cheesecloth, but the results weren't great. The goal is to loose about a third of the weight evenly through the meat as it hangs.

If you do use salami casing for this, please let me know how it turns out. The photo with my post is what you want your final product to look like. You'll note the even colour throughout the meat. That shows it has dried evenly and that's due to the casing around it.

I have one hanging in the basement right now and it's almost ready. One way to check how it's drying is to squeeze it. You'll be able to tell if the drying is consistent throughout. When it isn't, the lonzino feels as if it has a "crust" under which it feels soft.

Hope this helps! Thanks for getting in touch.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto this site after my loin was in the cure. Still a great read and thanks for posting. In a few days the loin will make the transition to the "drying room" which is a storage room under the steps.

Rick Blechta said...

Glad to have been of any service. If this is your first outing, make sure to check the loin everyday. The reason is to catch any black mold forming on the outside which is always a danger. If it does, just simply wipe the loin down with a vinegar-soaked cloth. White mold, by the way, is just fine. If the black mold gains a good foothold, you'll likely have to throw away your loin. You don't want to fool around with it!

Anonymous said...

This is my second try...The first took around 4 months and was worth the wait.I used the basic recipe per len poli..I did put one loin in a casing, two in netting and one in an umai bag. the umai cured first in the fridge...bout a month.The rest are in a cellar at around 60 deg. and 70ish percent humidity. They have the white mold starting to grow and are drying slowly and should be done at about the same time as my grape wine.

ET said...

My lonzino has been drying and is at 66 ounces (original weight is 85 ounces) so I suspect it's ready to try. I wish I had a deli slicer!

Rick Blechta said...

To Anonymous,

Just make sure that you judge the "doneness" of your drying lonzino by its weight. You want it to lose about 30% (slowly). When I have some curing, I just weigh it every Saturday.

To ET,

You might want to let your lonzino go a bit more. 30% of weight would be just under 60 ounces.

As for the deli slicer, do you have a store that you frequent a lot and where you know the people who work there? Before I got a slicer, I had a butcher friend who would slice my lonzino (and bacon) for me. If they hesitate, offer to pay something. It really is quite difficult to get something like lonzino thin enough doing it by hand. First off, you need a knife of razor sharpness and really good knife technique. That's why investing in a deli slicer was a decision that was not that hard to make.

Good luck to both of you! And many thanks for checking in.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in Europe with all kinds of cured meats. I do it at home all the time. Loin is our regular. The whole process takes four weeks from start to finish (old trick using weights during salt curing speeds things up tremendously) and I NEVER use sodium nitrite. That's the whole reason for home curing in my mind.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I came across a method that requires casing for curing loin as well. Interesting.